Child actor Gary Coleman, obviously best known as the legendary Arnold “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout Willis?” Jackson on the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, died today, apparently of a head injury due to a fall in his home. He was 42.
As a child and early teen, I’ll admit that Diff’rent Strokes was a guilty pleasure, and Arnold was my favourite character. His scriptwriters knew how to write good lines, and he knew just the right way for the character to deliver the wit. And, of course, that catchphrase was pure gold.
The junior cast of Strokes seems to have been a byword for the stereotypical problems of child actors. All three of the original children – Todd Bridges, Dana Plato, and Coleman – had problems with the law. Coleman himself also had money problems and chronic health problems (a kidney disorder that stunted his growth and kept him on dialysis).
Ironically, 87-year-old Conrad Bain, who played Philip Drummond, Coleman’s adoptive father, has now outlived two of his three fictional children. Plato died in 1999, and apparently only Bridges has been able to overcome his past problems and bring some sense of stability to his life.
And of course I’m not that much younger than Coleman was, either. Life is fleeting and can be gone in a second, all for a tap on the head. Rest in peace, Arnold.